Trailblazer in flight: WA Flying Doctor Brian Collings retires

Date published

02 Jul 2020
Dr Brian Collings

Jandakot Senior Base Medical Officer Dr Brian Collings has a twinkle in his eye as he recollects his inaugural odyssey into outback Western Australia nearly 15-and-a-half years ago. 

He has been tasked to respond to an Aboriginal elder experiencing symptoms of a heart attack in a remote community in the Kimberley. 

Arriving at the remote airstrip, he’s greeted by the entire community who hurries him along to his patient who was clutching his chest in distress. 

After an electrocardiogram is conducted and medication administered, colour returns to his patient who is relieved from his predicament. 

The community responds by erupting in applause and cheers and a bemused Dr Collings remembers thinking to himself: "Gee! This is a good job! I'm going to really love this!" 

Today, retirement has beckoned for Dr Collings who dubs his time with the Flying Doctor in Western Australia as colourful and one which more than satisfied his appetite for adventure. 

Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Dr Collings trained to become a doctor in South Africa and worked as a rural GP in Underberg, a dairy and cattle farming community in the Mzimkulu River valley of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. 

It's where he also discovers his passion for flying and secures a pilot's license. His first big move is to England from South Africa. It's wet and windy and Dr Collings jokes there wasn't enough uncontrolled airspace for his liking. 

One fine day, as fate would have it, his wife while reading the British Medical Journal spots an advertisement for a job with the Flying Doctor in WA. It’s a match made in heaven. 

The job which combines both his passion for aviation and medicine immediately piques his interest. 

Dr Brian Collings2

One thing leads to another and Dr Collings soon swaps the sub-zero temperatures of England for the hot and humid climate of Derby in the Kimberley region of WA. 

Reflecting on his time with the service, Dr Collings has undertaken countless life-saving missions far and wide across the vast regions of Western Australia. 

One mission which Dr Collings says was confronting was Ashmore Reef on 16 April 2009 when a vessel carrying 47 refugees exploded and sank. Five passengers were killed and many survivors were heavily burned. 

RFDS aircraft and crews from the Derby, Port Hedland, Meekatharra and Jandakot bases were tasked to respond. 

A medical triage facility was established at the Mungalalu Truscott Airbase in Kalumburu and on the Front Puffin – a tanker where the wounded were initially treated and awaited aero medical evacuation to hospitals ashore.


Dr Collings was tasked with flight nurse Marianne Testi to go by helicopter to the Puffin Platform to triage patients and airlift them back to Truscott. 

“We got the call to respond and it was go time. The scene was very confronting but we kicked into gear and did what we had to do, Marianne was amazing,” he recalled. 

“It was a full day’s work triaging and airlifting our patients from the Puffin to Truscott and we would do it all over again. They were severely burned, dehydrated, frightened and exposed. 

“I’ll never forget this moment when we were in the helicopter. We were all parched and there was only one bottle of water and we shared it amongst us. The memory of us bonding over a shared bottle of water will always stay with me.” 

When asked how he intends to spend his retirement, Dr Collings says he will continue to consult doing medical check-ups for aviators and in his spare time, will play keyboard and get stuck into some woodwork. 

"It's the best job I've ever had, I enjoyed every minute. My time with the Flying Doctor was like a vocation rather than a job," he said. 

"People with the Flying Doctor often go far beyond the call of duty and it has been a privilege. I will greatly miss my colleagues and my patients but won't miss the paperwork and accreditation."

On behalf of our crews and patients across the state, we thank Dr Collings for his service to humanity and wish him all the best as he embarks on a new chapter of his life. 

Happy retirement Dr Collings!